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Live Updates: Hurricane Ian strengthens to Category 3 on course to hit Florida’s west coast

Piney Point, a former phosphate mining facility in Manatee County, Florida, is undergoing 24-hour surveillance ahead of Hurricane Ian, CBS News has learned. The site made headlines last year when a massive leak was detected in the liner of a gypsum stack. The issue resulted in millions of gallons of wastewater ending up in Tampa Bay and helped contribute to a devastating months-long red tide event. 

Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried told CBS News on Tuesday that she had spoken with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection earlier in the day and that they do not foresee Hurricane Ian being “a huge problem,” given its current forecasts. 

“Based on the water that is currently in Piney Point, they can sustain about 25 inches of rain. And thinking that we’re supposed to get 12 to 15 inches of rain, they are not seeing this to be a huge problem,” Fried said. 

Fried said the department informed her that the water has been partially treated, so that even if there is an overflow, “it won’t be of issue.” 

However, the treatment of that water, she told CBS News, is something she “never had full trust and confidence in.”  

The site is undergoing 24-hour monitoring, Fried said. 

The state’s dedicated site for Piney Point updates last provided information on Friday, saying that preparations also include staging backup pumps and adjusting water management levels. There are roughly 268 million gallons in the site’s reservoir. 

According to Manatee County’s evacuation maps, Piney Point is in evacuation zone B, meaning that the area could see a potential surge inundation of 14 feet. 

The county issued mandatory evacuations for those in zones A and B on Tuesday. Those in zone C have been recommended to evacuate.

The state is more concerned with construction equipment on site, which the department is in the process of “hunkering down” and moving offsite to avoid heavy winds turning the equioment into projectiles. A deep injection well, approved in December, is under construction to hold the water that is in the reservoir, and the site is currently in the initial process of closing its south compartment, according to the website. Part of the process involves grading and shaping the area so it doesn’t accumulate rainwater. 

“The secretary seems to be pretty confident that they should be OK with the amount of rain,” Fried said. “Of course, if it was to be head-on with 140 mph sustained wind, that would be an issue. But with this just potentially being a rain event more than anything else in that Piney point area, he felt confident that they could sustain the rain.”

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